Slowdown at West Coast ports begins to affect local businesses

Bill Wagner, February 16, 2015, The Daily News


Northwest Hardwoods announced this week it is cutting production at three sawmills, including one in Longview, as result of the West Coast port slowdown.


Starting Monday, about 310 workers across all three mills will have their hours cut in half indefinitely.


Dan Bosell, 34, of Longview, who works in the labor pool for Northwest Hardwoods, said he was notified Tuesday that his hours would be reduced from 40 to 20 hours a week.


“It’s just a bummer, you know. You count on making 40 hours a week,” he said Friday.


The father of two is the sole provider for his family. His wife, Rachel, quit her job at a Woodland construction company in September after she had her second child. The cost of childcare was eating half her income, said Rachel, 31.


“We decided, ‘OK, money will be tight, but we can make this work,’” she said.


The family’s tax return will help to provide some temporary cushion, she said, “but if we didn’t have that, I don’t know what we would do.” Her husband, who also is a mechanic, says he may take odd jobs to make up the difference.


Tacoma-based Northwest Hardwoods is just one of several Washington firms that say congestion at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma has stifled shipments to overseas customers. Locally, Weyerhaeuser Co., KapStone Paper and Packaging Corp. and NORPAC also have been hit by the port slowdown.


Shippers contend dockworkers have slowed work as a bargaining tactic. The union denies slowing down and says its members want to help relieve congestion at the ports that began building months ago. Negotiators met Friday with a federal mediator, but there was no breakthrough.


Longview’s Northwest Hardwoods mill produces alder and maple lumber. It employs about 140 workers. Northwest mills in Centralia and Garibaldi, Ore., employ 100 and 70 workers, respectively.


Brian Narramore, vice president of human resources at Northwest Hardwoods, said the company is working with the state to enroll employees in a Shared Work program that would enable them to receive partial unemployment benefits as an alternative to layoffs.


“We’re now bursting at the seams with inventory, and we don’t really have any other options,” Narramore said. “McDonald’s has put French fries on airplanes, but you can’t treat lumber that way. … We’re trying to be as creative as we can be to try to push products out of those facilities.”


Like Weyerhaeuser, Northwest Hardwoods exports Longview products through the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma because the Port of Longview does not ship containers. Seattle and Tacoma ports are plagued by delays relating to the lengthy labor dispute between the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represent the workers who load and unload ships.


The PMA announced Wednesday another partial shutdown this weekend at 29 West Coast ports. During the shutdown, the shippers aren’t allowing dockworkers to load or unload vessels.


PMA officials said in a press release that shippers should not have to pay overtime and holiday hourly wages to dockworkers who they say are engaged a deliberate work slowdown.


“What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates in a press release.


Longview docks have been somewhat removed from the congestion crisis, but are beginning to feel the effects of the labor dispute.


On Thursday, about 42 longshoremen were called to work at the Port of Longview and grain terminal, down from their average day of about 100 workers, according to the ILWU Local 21.


“We’re feeling the same thing that some of these other folks are,” Local 21 longshore President Jason Lundquist Friday, referring to the Northwest Hardwoods’ workers. “We want to go to work also. The PMA is using these economic pressures as a bargaining tool.”


Port of Longview spokeswoman Ashley Helenberg said the partial shutdown will affect about two vessels over the weekend.


Port of Kalama executive director Mark Wilson said Wednesday the slowdown “hasn’t affected us here. Any position we have is really for two parties to get back to the table.”


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